JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (BP) — Missouri Baptist leaders and pastors have signed a document affirming their personal support for embattled Republican Senate candidate Todd Akin, saying they accept his apology and appreciate his “long-standing commitment” to social conservative causes.
Meanwhile, Southern Baptist ethicist Richard Land says he would urge Akin to “think about what is best for the pro-life cause” and consider withdrawing from the race.
A document on Akin’s website lists the personal endorsements of seven former Missouri Baptist Convention presidents, seven directors of missions and more than 60 Baptist pastors.
Conservatives have been divided over Akin’s candidacy ever since a mid-August interview when he was asked about his opposition to abortion in cases of rape and said of pregnancy from rape, “From what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”
Akin subsequently apologized for the comment, saying “it’s clear that I misspoke in this interview and it does not reflect the deep empathy I hold for the thousands of women who are raped and abused every year.” Doctors say the probability of pregnancy for rape victims is similar to the general female population. Akin further has recorded a TV ad, saying his “six-second mistake” should not overshadow the “six-year record” of his Democratic opponent, incumbent Sen. Claire McCaskill.
The controversy has received national attention because Republicans face a 53-47 deficit in the Senate caucus and are trying to retake the chamber. They had counted on Akin easily defeating McCaskill, who was considered by pundits to be the Democrats’ most-endangered incumbent. Also, Democrats have tried to tie Akin’s position to that of GOP nominee Mitt Romney, although Romney distanced himself from Akin.
The latest two polls show a deadlocked Senate race. One, conducted Aug. 27-28 of 829 likely voters by Wenzel Strategies for the Family Research Council, had Akin ahead, 45-42. Another poll, conducted Aug. 28-29 among 621 likely voters by Public Policy Polling, had McCaskill ahead, 45-44. Prior to Akin’s comments, the most recent poll had him up by 11.
The document posted on Akin’s website said, “we the undersigned do hereby affirm/reaffirm our continued support of Congressman Todd Akin for the office of United States Senate.”
“We know his character and his conservative convictions,” it said. “Furthermore, we accept fully his apology and his request for forgiveness. … We greatly appreciate his long-standing commitment to our God-given rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and his proven record of defending life, traditional marriage, religious liberty, the Second Amendment, free enterprise, limited government, fiscal responsibility and a strong national defense.”
The seven former Missouri Baptist Convention presidents who signed the statement are Kenny Qualls, Gerald Davidson, Bob Collins, Ralph Sawyer, Mitch Jackson, Monte Shinkle and David Tolliver. Also signing it were Don Hinkle, editor of the Pathway Baptist newspaper; Larry Lewis, former president of Hanibal-LaGrange University and the former SBC Home Mission Board; Dick Bott and Rich Bott of Bott Radio Network, which is headquartered in Missouri; and Jim Wells, former director of missions for the Tri-County Baptist Association and current registration secretary of the Southern Baptist Convention. Conservative leaders outside the state also signed it, such as Paul Pressler, a former Texas judge and leader within the SBC; Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council; James Dobson, radio personality and founder of Focus on the Family; Don Wildmon, founder of American Family Association; and Penny Nance, president of Concerned Women for America. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee’s name was not on the list, but he has led the effort in defending Akin against calls within the Republican Party for Akin to withdraw.
Former U.S. Rep. J.C. Watts of Okla. also supports Akin and took part in a pro-Akin conference call that included many Missouri Baptists Aug. 24.
“I would remind our pastor friends … over the last 10, 12 years the homosexual lobby is more powerful than they’ve ever been in Washington. Planned Parenthood is more powerful than they’ve ever been. Our children’s innocence is more threatened,” Watts said, according to Politico.com. “Todd Akin has been just totally with the family, totally stood for godly principles. He and his wife are just a delight to be around. … Todd Akin has not been the problem. He has been the solution.”
Land, the president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said he believes Akin’s staying in the race could hurt the pro-life cause.
“If I could have a personal conversation with Congressman Akin, I would say, ‘For the good of the pro-life cause, you need to retire from the field and let someone who has a better chance of winning for the pro-life cause take your place,'” Land told Baptist Press. “It isn’t fair and it isn’t kind to be judged by one remark, but sometimes life isn’t fair and life isn’t kind. And I think it’s going to be very difficult for him to recover from this statement, at least in this election cycle. One out of every six women has been sexually assaulted. I don’t care how you try to explain it, his statement is a very difficult one for many women to accept.”
Land said the controversy reminds him of a “much worse statement” about rape in 1990 by Clayton Williams, a Republican who was running for Texas governor. Williams compared rape to bad weather, saying, “If it’s inevitable, just relax and enjoy it.” He led in the polls prior to the comment but eventually lost to Democrat Ann Richards.
“I would urge Congressman Akin to think about what is best for the pro-life cause,” Land said. “But I don’t live in Missouri, so if Missouri pro-lifers think he can win in spite of this, well, it’s their Senate seat. But it’s the U.S. Senate that is in balance here.”
Michael Foust is associate editor of Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).